Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta OBE (21st July 1944 – 25 January 2017) was a novelist and playwright. She authored over twenty books that focus on gender discrimination and racial prejudice, both of which she’d experienced herself. Some of her most notable works include The Bride Price (1976), Second Class Citizen (1974), The Slave Girl (1977) and my personal favorite, The Joys of Motherhood (1979).
Emecheta is a household name in the literary community worldwide. In her thirty years of work, she made some incredible achievements. She received the Jock Campbell New Statesman award for her novel Slave girl and was made OBE for her services to literature. She travelled the world and lectured in prestigious universities, the likes of Yale and UCLA. She worked with many literary organizations including the Caine Prize for African writing where she was a member on its advisory council. And she is featured on the BBC History Magazine’s list of 100 women who changed the world.
I consider Buchi Emecheta the pioneer Nigerian feminist writer. She was a feminist true and true, by the books she wrote and by the life she lived. Here, I have for you, some interesting facts you should know about Buchi Emecheta.
#1: Emecheta almost didn’t go to school.
Born in 40s Nigeria in a time of gender bias, Emecheta was kept at home while her younger brother was sent off to school. Believing that she had more to offer, she lobbied the benefits of her education to her parents and was eventually sent to an all-girls missionary school at the age of 10. She wouldn’t have gone to school if she didn’t question the system and speak up. Incredible to think Emecheta had always been the woman we thought her to be, even at age ten!
#2: She was betrothed to a school boy at age 11 and married off at age 16.
Traditional Igbo marriages in the past were arranged by the parents/family. The arranged marriages were not based on love but on status, honour, allegiances and friendship. At age eleven, Emecheta was arranged to marry a schoolboy named Sylvester Onwordi. An orphan at the time, she would eventually get a full scholarship to study at the Methodist Girls’ School in Yaba, Lagos, where at sixteen she would get married.
#3: Sylvester Onwordi, Emecheta’s husband, burnt her first manuscript.
Emecheta’s marriage is chronicled in her semi-autobiographical novel Second-class citizen, as well as her autobiography, Head above Water. Shortly after marriage, she and her husband moved to London with their two children. Her marriage to Sylvester Onwordi was violent and she was a victim of his violence. While dealing with this at home, she secured a job at the North Finchley Library where she took an interest in writing. On suspicion of her writing, Emecheta’s husband burnt her very first manuscript. You’d think that would stop her? Well, five years later, Emecheta re-wrote the very same burnt manuscript and it’s now one of her more famous novels, The Bride Price.
#4: Emecheta earned her BSc in Sociology while nurturing five children.
Emecheta divorced Onwordi at the age of twenty-two, leaving her to care for their five children. While working and taking care of the children, she pursued a bachelors’ degree in Sociology at the University of London. In her autobiography, Head above Water, she considered her feat a “miracle”. I think we all do, too Buchi.
#5: She wrote the first female account of the Nigerian civil war.
Emecheta’s 1982 novel Destination Biafra is the first and for a long time was the only female account of the Nigerian civil war. The novel follows fictional character Debbie Ogedemgbe, daughter of a corrupt Nigerian Finance minister.
Against her parents’ wishes, Debbie joins the army to help her country win the war but soon struggles with her identity as a traditional Nigerian woman and her desire to answer the compatriot’s call. She is also doubting of her English lover, Alan Grey, who is Nigeria’s military adviser, as his interests in the war are put to question.
There are your facts, guys! It’s official. The closest thing we have to a Nigerian super-hero is Buchi Emecheta.
The world will forever be in admiration of her work and she will forever be remembered for her tenacity and grit in the face of gender oppression.